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Slugger's ex-partner convicted

Baseball great Ted Williams may be a national treasure and Vincent Antonucci had no right to victimize him, assistant state attorney Jim Phillips said Thursday in closing arguments of Antonucci's grand-theft trial.

A jury of two men and four women in Circuit Judge Jack Springstead's court found Antonucci guilty of stealing a $37,800 check from Williams, who lives in Citrus Hills. They deliberated 72 minutes.

"I'm sorry the way things turned out for him, but I think justice was done," Williams said after leaving the courtroom, where he remained to hear the verdict.

Antonucci, a Citrus County man and Williams' ex-partner in a Crystal River baseball memorabilia store, faces a sentence of 2{ to 5{ years in prison for the second-degree felony. Sentencing is scheduled for March 19.

Antonucci was to have used the money to buy 200 cases of baseball cards as a personal investment for Williams. The state contended Antonucci deposited the money into a personal checking account, spending much of it, and never produced the cards.

"Uncle Ted," as Antonucci's wife testified their daughter called Williams, used his celebrity status to have Antonucci charged, defense attorney George Evans said in his closing of the four-day trial.

Prosecutors, Evans said, "just went ahead and had (Antonucci) arrested because of the great Mr. Ted Williams."

"This is just the lesser Mr. Antonucci," Evans argued. "Mr. Williams has greater rights.

"Where is the justice? Where is the fairness? I don't see it there. . . . Mr. Antonucci didn't hit .400 in the major leagues, but that doesn't entitle Mr. Williams to greater justice."

Phillips responded, "No folks, he didn't. But he hit the jackpot the day Ted Williams walked into his ball shop . . . and he lined his pockets and got greedy on that."

Phillips then rebutted Evans' contention that Hall of Famer Williams, who hit .406 for the Boston Red Sox in 1941 and was the last major-leaguer to hit over .400, received favor due to his identity.

"This is a case of betrayal of trust," Phillips said. "Mr. Williams, just because of who he is, does not deserve any lesser justice than the defendant."

"I remind you of what Mr. Phillips said in his closing about justice being for all," assistant state attorney Jim McCune said after the verdict was returned. "This case wasn't about Ted Williams as (much as) it was that Florida has laws that dictate honesty in business."

Williams and Antonucci were partners in the now-defunct Talkin' Baseball store when Williams wrote the check in November 1989. Antonucci was charged in February 1991.

According to testimony, handshake-deals at the shop were made regularly on transactions involving collectibles worth thousands of dollars. Williams testified more than four hours Tuesday and again Wednesday night.

Evans contended Antonucci may have kept the money because he thought Williams owed him even more than that from other deals between the two, and that he did not return it in light of civil litigation between the two.

The state maintained the check represented a separate transaction, though Evans said his unsuccessful attempts to introduce evidence to the contrary may be grounds for an appeal.

McCune said Williams, who signed autographs while waiting to testify and after the trial concluded, may be entitled to restitution.

Antonucci was taken into custody after being denied bail due to his criminal record, which includes at least two felony convictions and two misdemeanor convictions in other states. They are theft-related, including a New York case involving a stolen baseball card collection.